When a massive earthquake struck Haiti in January, 2010, it shone a spotlight on the need to ease the dangerous overcrowding of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. So, after responding to the disaster with emergency programs, Oxfam shifted some of our focus to the countryside. Together with our partners, we ramped up our program to reinvigorate the rice economy of the Artibonite Valley, with the goals of reducing rural poverty, contributing to food security in Haiti, and—by making rice farming more viable—counteracting the continuous pull to migrate from the country to the city. As Oxfam’s Elizabeth Stevens reports in a series of blog posts, Haiti’s rice farmers are embracing the program and making it their own.
The muddy water coursing along the roadsides and through the rice fields of the Artibonite Valley plays a prominent role in the lives of rice farmers. Rivers and channels nourish the rice, the vegetables, the goats and cows, and the riot of greenery in the countryside. But when storms and hurricanes strike, it’s those same waterways that overflow and carry away livestock, drown the crops, contaminate wells, and deliver deadly cholera bacteria to rural communities.
If the water moves freely through the channels—unimpeded by sediment, weeds, and debris—the risks subside, and the benefits can transform communities, which is why we’ve focused resources on helping farmers clear more than 60 miles of irrigation canals.
Dubuisson is one of the towns where we’ve been working, and I visited there with an Oxfam team last month. Clearing channels isn’t all we’re up to in this area. We and our partner have introduced methods of improving rice yields, provided access to low-interest loans, and helped boost the vegetable harvest in the off season for rice. But here what people talked about most was what it’s meant to them to restore irrigation to fields that had gone dry.